The Future Of Indo—Naga Peace Dialogue: Where Is It Going ?

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AFTER the BJP government’s decision to nullify Article 370 and end Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Lal Thanhawla, five times Chief Minister of Mizoram state tweeted: “RED ALERT to the people of the NE. It has become a threat to states like Mizoram, Nagaland & Arunachal which are protected by the constitution.” This was followed by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland’s letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which said “This is in reference to the core issues like Naga flag and constitution which are yet to be agreed upon by the two parties. Without these two core issues solved, any solution would be far from honourable because Naga pride and identity is deeply entrenched here.”

 

■ Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN–IM) leaders at the signing ceremony of the framework agreement between the government of India and NSCN(IM) in New Delhi, August 2015 | PTI

 

The Chairman Q. Tuccu and General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah of NSCN(IM) in their letter have also said that there are doubts and confusion on whether an honourable political solution can be arrived at. An editorial titled “Bemusing Appointment” in NSCN (IM)’s monthly news bulletin ‘Nagalim Voice’ has expressed uneasiness with RN Ravi now set to play the dual role. The editorial claims that “in the first formal talk after many months, it became a matter of discomfort for NSCN negotiators led by Chief Negotiator Th. Muivah when the Government of India started turning capricious and bossy as reflected by the body language of Ravi.” It added, “What is now alarming is the machination which may follow in the guise of doing the groundwork to bring about a final settlement.”

 

An editorial titled “Bemusing Appointment” in NSCN (IM)’s monthly news bulletin ‘Nagalim Voice’ has expressed uneasiness with Ravi now set to play the dual role. The editorial claims that “in the first formal talk after many months, it became a matter of discomfort for NSCN negotiators led by Chief Negotiator Th. Muivah when the Government of India started turning capricious and bossy as reflected by the body language of Ravi

 

The Government of India’s interlocutor to the Indo–Naga political talks, RN Ravi was appointed as the Governor of Nagaland state in July this year. After his appointment. Ravi told the press that he has been instructed by the Prime Minister to finalise the agreement within three months, by October/November this year. Now Nagas claiming that the governor is a representative of the President of India and reports to him through the Union home ministry. Constitutionally, he can no longer claim to be the Prime Minister’s emissary for the talks, which will now also have to wait as the Nagas rethink their political future.

Mr. Ravi has tried to dispel apprehensions that the withdrawal of special status for Jammu & Kashmir would cast a shadow in Nagaland, saying Article 370 was a temporary provision related to the northern state and was not meant to be permanent. He has said that on the other hand, Article 371(A), the special provision with respect to Nagaland’s religious and social practices and its customary laws and procedures, is the result of over three years of negotiations between the people of the state and the government of India. He asserted that it was an agreement and a solemn commitment, and not temporary or impermanent as Article 370 was, the governor stated.

 

After the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, invalidating the state’s constitution and abolishing the use of the state’s flag, it will be difficult for the BJP government to accept NSCN(IM)’s demand for a separate flag and a constitution. NSCN(IM) has hinted at “machinations which may follow in the guise of doing the groundwork to bring about a final settlement

 

After the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, invalidating the state’s constitution and abolishing the use of the state’s flag, it will be difficult for the BJP government to accept NSCN(IM)’s demand for a separate flag and a constitution. NSCN(IM) has hinted at “machinations which may follow in the guise of doing the groundwork to bring about a final settlement.” The question is what can NSCN(IM) do if Delhi decide to back out of the Framework Agreement ?

The Indo–Naga peace negotiations has been going on for the last 22 years. In 2015, a “Framework Agreement” was signed. Though the details were not disclosed, it was said the negotiations had reached the final stage and final agreement would come soon. Recently several reports have appeared in various North East based newspapers which said that peace talk underway between Modi government and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) is nearing conclusion as Government of India has approved the eight–point charter of demands put up by the NSCN(IM). News reports also said that the eight–point demands included a separate constitution for Nagaland, a separate flag and a pan Naga government to cover all Naga inhabited Areas among other things. On September 13 The Asian Age reported that the Union Home Ministry has rejected the demand of a separate flag and constitution for Nagaland and has decided to conclude the ongoing peace talks with the Naga rebel groups soon, by the end of this year. It also said that “Nagaland’s powerful civil society body had asked the armed rebel groups to sign the peace deal even if the Government of India does not agree to a separate flag and constitution for the state”.

These were planted stories. True that the negotiations has been proceeding slowly. But as I understand much has been achieved. There have been two major issues in the negotiations with the NSCN(IM): 1, concerning the political status of the Nagas and 2, the integration of all the contiguous Naga areas in India’s Northeast. The demand for full independence was put aside by the Nagas after protracted negotiations. In the beginning the Nagas had proposed that India and Nagaland should become “two nations inseparably bound”. After several rounds of discussions they decided to seek a re–negotiated federal relationship with India.

 

■ Thuingaleng Muivah with his guards | Archive

 

THE KEY ISSUES AND SEARCH FOR A POLITICAL SOLUTION

Negotiations over a unique federal relationship with India meant that the division of competencies — subjects in the Union, State and Concurrent Lists of the Indian Constitution — would be discussed. These details still have to be worked out.

Another special feature of the detailed agreement is likely to be a separate arrangement on land and mineral rights in the Naga areas. As is known the Naga areas are rich in petroleum and natural gas, coal and other minerals. The NSCN(IM) has been demanding a Constitutional Guarantee about their “absolute right” over land and mineral resources. Currently, the royalty on minerals that goes to a state is 22% in the rest of India but the NSCN(IM) wants this to be raised.

 

Peace talk underway between Modi government and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) is nearing conclusion as Government of India has approved the eight–point charter of demands put up by the NSCN(IM). News reports also said that the eight–point demands included a separate constitution for Nagaland, a separate flag and a pan Naga government to cover all Naga inhabited Areas

 

The issue of integration of the Naga–inhabited areas, remains unresolved. The very idea of merging parts of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam with the present state of Nagaland is unacceptable to these states which stand to lose territory. And it will certainly generate tensions within these states. Considering the political situation and the sensitivity of these states, the NSCN(IM) has agreed to postpone the process of integration however, it has said that the integration of contiguous Naga areas would remain on the negotiating table, and it should happen at an opportune time. This way, the issue of integration would stay alive but be deferred.

The major political arrangement that is likely to emerge out of the agreement is the formation of a Pan–Naga Council. This non–state body is likely to be elected by all Nagas residing in the contiguous areas of Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. Its powers would be the subject of the negotiations carried out within the parameters of the framework agreement.

It is expected that Nagas in each state would get an elected autonomous council, which would look after their economic and other developmental affairs.

 

Detailed agreement is likely to be a separate arrangement on land and mineral rights in the Naga areas. As is known the Naga areas are rich in petroleum and natural gas, coal and other minerals. The NSCN(IM) has been demanding a Constitutional Guarantee about their “absolute right” over land and mineral resources. Currently, the royalty on minerals that goes to a state is 22% in the rest of India but the NSCN(IM) wants this to be raised

 

THE UPPER HAND OF THE STATE

In South Asia, there is a busy history of the praxis of peace making via ‘peace accords’. The metaphor of a ‘peace table’ encapsulates the structure of a ‘peace process’ that seats only the armed protagonists. The “peace dialogue” centres round discussion involving expansion and realignments of power sharing. It is territorially focused and enables a degree of self–rule but rarely entails any democratisation of the politics in control. It is important to recognise that in these peace processes, there is no parity of status between state and non-state actors. It is the state that determines when peace is to be made, and on what terms.

It may be recalled that in 1995, when Prime Minister Narasimha Rao met the leaders of NSCN(IM) in Paris, it was agreed that Indian Government would negotiate with NSCN(IM), as it was the largest of the insurgent groups and had the support of the majority of the Naga people. In the subsequent discussions between NSCN(IM) and Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda this understanding remained.

 

Within a few years civil society mobilisation in support of peace produced a groundswell of popular support so much so that till a few years ago, the two armed protagonists at the table the Government of India (GOI) and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN–IM) were under popular pressure not to walk away from the table, to be accountable to a people that have the historical memory of being betrayed by backroom deals

 

However, after the signing of the cease fire agreement in 1997, the Centre began to insist that the peace process would be incomplete if other Naga insurgent groups, some of whom are dormant, were not taken on board the negotiations. The government opened negotiations with Khaplang faction of the NSNC. However, Khaplang faction of NSCN, which is based in Myanmar, has ceased to be a part of the peace process after it walked out of a 14–year–old truce in March 2015.

Indeed in 1997 when the ceasefire was announced, there was limited support for pursuing peace negotiations before unity among the four splintered Naga factions was established. However, within a few years civil society mobilisation in support of peace produced a groundswell of popular support so much so that till a few years ago, the two armed protagonists at the table the Government of India (GOI) and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN–IM) were under popular pressure not to walk away from the table, to be accountable to a people that have the historical memory of being betrayed by backroom deals.

However, Naga civil society backing for the peace process has taken a severe battering in the last few years. In the face of the deadlock in the talks and the disillusionment that followed, the NSCN(IM) leadership is increasingly distancing itself from engaging with civil society groups and is becoming less and less transparent. Indeed, the implications of the failure to structurally integrate civil society participation in the peace process, is becoming evident in the latest phase of the official peace talks.

 

NSCN(IM) leadership is increasingly distancing itself from engaging with civil society groups and is becoming less and less transparent. Indeed, the implications of the failure to structurally integrate civil society participation in the peace process, is becoming evident in the latest phase of the official peace talks

 

The ceasefire has benefited primarily the Naga in Nagaland state. For the first time, since the beginning of Naga struggle for independence, Nagas have lived in relative peace. The underground armed groups have returned and live in designated camps and move about freely. Some have gone back to their homes, got married and started small business. The ceasefire has enabled the Nagas, particularly in Nagaland to lead a normal life. Business has prospered, educational institutions have been functioning throughout out the year, and the job market has expanded. The inter group clashes between the armed groups have reduced. Even in the hill districts of Manipur, where ceasefire has not been formally declared, there has been no serious clashes between the Indian forces and the Naga armed groups.

Over the years the Indian and Nagaland state government have grown stronger. Nearly 69 years of the Nagaland state has produced a crowd of stakeholders in the system — involved in electoral politics, the bureaucracy, suppliers and contractors integrated with state and central economy and educational institutions. The mystique and awe of a distant fighting force sacrificing all for a sovereign, integrated ‘Nagalim’, has giving way to the banal reality of elections determining politics. It is open to the rhetoric of appeasement and development. Many of the new ideas and new initiatives for resolving the old problems that have grid locked the Naga imbroglio, are associated with this group of relatively youthful, urban, educated professional women and men, e.g. Forum for Naga Reconciliation and the ‘Alternative Arrangement.

BRINGING ALL STAKE HOLDERS ON BOARD

Routinely, the state when challenged by competing national movements questions their legitimacy and whether there is a sole spokesperson who can deliver an agreement. The unity issue has wracked the Naga national movement and been an active presence in the troubled history of North East accords. The 1947 Hydari Agreement was singular in that it accepted the complete authority of the NNC over the Naga territory and its resources. That representative consensus and territorial reach was foundationally undermined by the 1960 accord. Here a state brought together groups who were opposed to the armed struggle and helped them to set up the Naga Peoples Convention, set up a Liaison group to mediate between the two warring parties, and ended up concluding the 16 Point Agreement. It swapped independence for statehood within the Indian Union. Phizo denounced the NPC as ‘stooges of the Indian government’ and the accord as a “sell out.

 

Question is what is the “reasonable”? The lack of transparency and such oblique reminder of the past have created a sense of foreboding of failure of the dialogue. This has been aggravated by news reports in local and national papers that the centre has ruled out the demand for far more powers in the federal relationship between ‘Nagalim’ and New Delhi than other Indian states

 

THE 1960 AGREEMENT

The 1947 Hydari Agreement, 1960 Agreement and the 1957 Shillong Agreement — positions territorially and ideologically divided the Nagas. These are instances of ‘domination through negotiation’. They divided the Naga polity, rewarding amicable politicians, ruthlessly suppressing opponents, and fragmenting the Naga inhabited areas into four state territories. The accord succeeded in empowering a group in an autonomous arrangement within the India Union, and legitimised the state’s claim that the persisting Naga movement is a law and order problem.

Nagaland Legislative Assembly has adopted several resolutions endorsing the call for unification of all Naga inhabited areas under one administrative unit. Reo is all praise for Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, whom he describes as a “thorough gentleman”. While inauguration the Naga Solidarity Park in Kohima on April 16, this year Rio said the PM has requested the Naga organisations to be “reasonable”. He hastened to add that the PM did not mean that Nagas were not reasonable, but had simply conveyed a message to the Nagas for being reasonable.

Apprehension of return of the bad days is certainly daunting. However, the question is what is the “reasonable” ? The lack of transparency and such oblique reminder of the past have created a sense of foreboding of failure of the dialogue. This has been aggravated by news reports in local and national papers that the centre has ruled out the demand for far more powers in the federal relationship between ‘Nagalim’ and New Delhi than other Indian states. There are news reports that the NSCN(IM) has given a written commitment to New Delhi to abide by the Indian Constitution, and as a reciprocal gesture to the written commitment of NSCN(IM), New Delhi has assured that the Nagas would enjoy special rights in the states neighbouring Nagaland, where they are at present in a minority.

What remains to be seen is whether Ravi will take the negotiation process forward and the India state will offer an agreement which will include the core demands of the Nagas or is he going to move away from negotiating with NSCN(IM) and try and expand the negotiation process by including what he call “all stake holders”. Are we going to see another attempt to create Naga Peoples’ Convention like in 1960. News reports suggests that “Nagaland’s powerful civil society body had asked the armed rebel groups to sign the peace deal even if the Government of India does not agree to a separate flag and constitution for the state” sounds ominous. As the editorial of Nagalim Voice commented on the last round of negotiations, “Government of India started turning capricious and bossy as reflected by the body language of Ravi.” These are difficult times for the Nagas. Given these realities, the NSCN(IM) must regain the support of civil society, much like it had a decade ago; else the solution would be one that is imposed upon the Naga people. ■

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